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PFL Founder Donn Davis argues ‘better pay’ and more fighter freedom than UFC: ‘You’re in control in the PFL’

2023 PFL 9: Playoffs Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

PFL (Professional Fighters League) plans to continue making serious waves in MMA in 2024.

The promotion has had a big 2023 outside of the cage, signing the likes of big-name talents such as former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Heavyweight champion, Francis Ngannou, and boxing star, Jake Paul. As recently as this past week (Aug. 30, 2023), PFL signed a new investment agreement with SRJ Sports Investment, which will provide them with massive Saudi Arabia-based financial backing.

PFL already had the power of prize money on its side, rewarding seasonal tournament winners with a $1 million payout along with a divisional title. For reasons like this, PFL Founder, Donn Davis, believes the company is quickly approaching UFC caliber, if not surpassing it in some areas.

“UFC’s a great company, but PFL is a great company,” Davis said on Front Office Sports Today (h/t MMA Fighting). “We do everything they do and we do some things better. One, we pay better and two, you’re in control in the PFL. You’re not under somebody’s thumb. What you do inside the cage controls your future.

“We’ve never had a fighter leave PFL in five years. We’re not a feeder league. Not one has ever left,” he continued. “When they get here, they go, ‘This is fantastic,’ and two, we’ve recruited a lot from the other guys. Francis Ngannou being the latest and the biggest. So we think our system of treating athletes and fighter first will prove to be the better system long term. But the best thing we can do for the fighter and the industry and our own company is be fighter first and create opportunity.”

The crossover from PFL to UFC has been limited since the promotion’s restructuring from World Series of Fighting (WSOF) in 2018. That year’s PFL Heavyweight season winner and champion, Philipe Lins, was released from the promotion and went to UFC the following year and has gone 3-2 inside the Octagon since. He currently rides a three-fight winning streak after dropping to Light Heavyweight in April 2022. 2021 Lightweight runner-up, Loik Radzhabov, was also released from PFL after his loss to that year’s winner, Raush Manfio. Radzhabov is 1-1 in UFC.

In converse to fighters jumping from PFL to UFC, more have gone in the opposite direction as evidenced by the aforementioned Ngannou. Former Featherweight standout, Shane Burgos, was a big addition to the PFL Lightweight roster this year, while former UFC competitors such as Olivier Aubin-Mercier, Clay Collard, Larissa Pacheco, Antonio Carlos Junior, Rob Wilkinson, Brendan Loughnane, Chris Wade, Rory MacDonald, Maurice Greene, Thiago Santos, and various others, went on to be PFL standouts.

The recent investment from SRJ will provide talent scouting expansion for PFL as they open up target areas in the Middle East and Northern Africa.

“When you look at other MMA companies, I would focus on the talent and the fighter talent,” Davis said. “That’s really the only thing of value now that PFL has established itself as the clear No. 2 by every metric. We already have premium brand. We already have the best product on TV. We already have global distribution with top media partners in 150 countries. We already have the fastest-growing revenue business infrastructure. So no other company offers us anything other than we like fighter talent that exists in some other companies. They’ve acquired some great fighters.

“UFC doesn’t have a monopoly on great fighters. PFL doesn’t have a monopoly on great fighters. Great fighters exist everywhere,” he continued. “Now those great fighters tend to roll off contracts every two years so we can acquire them that way but if there were enough fighters that we could acquire at one time, that would be an interesting opportunity.

“The last five years a lot of people said, ‘We love that product, we love that vision — will they have enough money to go up against that big dog UFC?’” Davis concluded. “Well, now we do.”

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